At the holy sites of Islam, on satellite television, and, even more notoriously, on websites like YouTube, the above statements may remind the reader of numerous attacks that are launched against the followers of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). In Chapter Seven of Adl al-Ilahi (Divine Justice) by Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari, the topic of Shafa’at (intercession) is discussed in detail. Martyr Mutahhari mentions two ways that intercession can be understood: one which is denied by verses from the Holy Qur’an, and another which is supported by verses from the Holy Qur’an.
“What is this Shafa’at (intercession) you Shia always talk about?! Or, better yet, what is this Tawassul (seeking help) you do all the time?! ‘Oh Ali!’ you proudly exclaim! Why not ‘Oh Allah!’ Clearly this is blatant Shirk – Shirk, Shirk, Shirk!”
At the holy sites of Islam, on satellite television, and, even more notoriously, on websites like YouTube, the above statements may remind the reader of numerous attacks that are launched against the followers of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them).
Dear reader, whether you are an offended believer, a riled up critic, or simply someone who wants to understand the concepts mentioned in a more comprehensive fashion, let’s agree to put aside the stereotypes and discuss academically.
In Chapter Seven of Adl al-Ilahi (Divine Justice) by Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari, the topic of Shafa’at (intercession) is discussed in detail. Martyr Mutahhari mentions two ways that intercession can be understood: one which is denied by verses from the Holy Qur’an, and another which is supported by verses from the Holy Qur’an.
The Un-Islamic Intercession
The concept of intercession which is unacceptable in Islam is the type which would involve “breaking the rules”. For example, in our daily lives, one may refer to a person “with connections” to “intercede” on his/her behalf, essentially going against the law.
The reason behind such a concept of intercession would be because of some type of imperfection or injustice in the social system. When it comes to the perfect system of existence, to believe that the Ahlul Bayt can break the rules which Allah has set or that they can “change Allah’s will” is absolutely unacceptable. This is the concept of intercession which is condemned in the Holy Qur’an: “And guard yourselves against a day when no soul will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will compensation be received from it, nor will they be helped.” (2:48)
In other words, on that day, there will be no way to escape the justice of Allah, no way to break the rules – contrary to what was practiced in the social system of this world. The perfect system which Allah has set forth in creation and legislation has no room for the mentioned concept of intercession.
Video Feature: Sayed Ammar Nakshawani – Is Intercession a Form of Shirk? – Runtime 01:08:11
The Islamic Intercession
However, the concept of intercession which is indeed part of Allah’s perfect system is of a higher nature. This concept of intercession – the Islamic concept – is embedded within the perfect system and cannot be separated from it.
The Islamic concept of intercession can be understood as two types:
1) The “Intercession of Deeds” and 2) The “Intercession of Mercy” (Forgiveness).
The Intercession of Deeds
The deeds that we commit in this world will be seen in some shape or form in the next world. “So, the one who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And the one who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.” (Qur’an 99:7-8)
With further reflection, one realizes that even the “relation” or “connections” between deeds shall also be seen. For instance, when one person is the apparent cause for the guidance of another individual, the “relation” or “connection” of guidance between the two will be seen on the Day of Judgment in the form of “one who is leading and another who is led.”
The Holy Qur’an states, “On the day when we shall call every people by their Imam (leader)” (Israa:71). So, the person being led and the leader will be resurrected together. If the leader’s deeds take him/her to heaven, then the one who followed such a leader’s actions and examples would also follow suit.
Therefore, when Muslims abide by the teachings of Ahlul Bayt, they receive “Intercession of Deeds” in the highest of forms. Note that this is intrinsic to the system which Allah encompasses indefinitely.
The Intercession of Mercy (Forgiveness)
This type of intercession requires an understanding of how Allah the Exalted expresses His Mercy in the perfect system of existence.
Allah has created the perfect system in such a way that each level of existence is the cause for the level below it. Consequently, each level is an “intermediate” through which Allah expresses His ever-flowing Mercy to the next level. The expression of Allah’s mercy is endless, and at each level, Allah’s mercy is expressed to the extent which that specific level “can handle”.
Allah has made clear to us in the Holy Qur’an that our beliefs and deeds affect, whether or not we are deprived from the mercy (forgiveness) that emanates from Him. Shirk (ascribing a partner to Allah) is one thing which can seriously hinder a person’s “mercy-receptivity”.
Allah the Exalted, says, “Indeed, Allah does not forgive that partners should be ascribed to Him, and He forgives besides that to whom He wills.” (4:117)
This type of intercession represents the dependent causes – which Allah has caused – and how Allah expresses His mercy to the rest of creation through those causes. In the end, the Holy Qur’an sums it up, ‘Say: for Allah is the entirety of intercession” (39:44). Indeed, Allah is the Ultimate Cause and His absoluteness sustains existence in every way.
Tawassul (Seeking Help)
As for Tawassul, after getting a better understanding of the nature of Allah’s system, it can be deduced that there are physical as well as non-physical intermediates between Allah and those in the Dunya (lowest world).
Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, “Oh you who believe: be aware of Allah and seek to Him the Waseela (intermediate to reach Him)” (5:35). The verse obviously commands the believers to seek intermediates to reach Allah. Why? Because He made the perfect system, and He knows that we reach our perfection by utilizing the system appropriately. Among these “intermediates” are those Allah has chosen to guide us, such as the greatest of Allah’s Creation, Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family).
“And if they had – after having done injustice to themselves – come to you (Muhammad) and asked Allah for forgiveness, and the Messenger then would ask Allah to forgive them, they would have found that Allah is Oft-Returning (to Mercy), Merciful” (4:64).
Shirk, Shirk, Shirk?
When an aware believer says “Oh Ali!” (s)he is not truly seeking Imam Ali (peace be upon him). Rather, the believer seeks Allah, and because Allah has commanded the believer to seek Him through the chosen intermediates, the believer does not hesitate to do so.
“So what? Are you saying that calling out ‘Oh Allah!’ is not sufficient?!” No…but one cannot deny that Allah has commanded us to seek Him in a specific way, i.e. via these intermediates.
If one calls out “Oh Ali!” thinking that Imam Ali (peace be upon him) can independently do anything for the person, it is definitely Shirk. Similarly, if one knowingly calls out “Oh Allah!” without seeking Him through the appropriate means –at heart – then such a call cannot be considered true obedience to the Wisest of Planners.
A Point of Reflection
“Alright, intercession and Tawassul sound reasonable now. But why does Allah choose to do things in such a way? Why does Allah set up such a system?”
In truth, the philosophical answer to this question is understood from previous sections of the book by Martyr Mutahhari. Allah, the All-Wise and All-Perfect, only chooses – with His absolute knowledge and wisdom – to create the best system. Let’s put it this way: Allah, in His infinite knowledge, knows which system is the most perfect (in every aspect). Because He is the All-Wise, He only wills such a system into existence.
If we take a step back and start from the practical level, we see that Allah tells us to seek Him through designated intercessors (which are known by most people in the historical context). When we reflect on this fact, we can infer that Allah wants us to recognize and appreciate the importance and greatness of such individuals within this perfect system of existence – beyond the physical sense.
Qur’an, narrations, and logical deduction give more insight into how this importance is manifested. But, the following phrase from Hadith al-Kisa (the Event of the Cloak) may serve to spark the reader’s interest: “Verily, I have not created the erected sky, the stretched earth, the illuminated moon, the bright sun, the rotating heavens, the flowing seas and the sailing ships but for the love of these Five lying under the cloak….”